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A CONVERSATION IN HADES.
Interlocutors, Lord Byron and M. Honore de Balzac. The language used,
a kind of' spiritual Volapuh. Time, the present.
Lord Byron. Good evening, M. de Balzac. Hades
seems to suit you to-day better than it did Achilles some
time since, if we maj T trust the authority- of Homer, whom we
shades at least know for certain to have been a living man.
Your face is so wreathed in smiles that I'm willing to bet
you've had pleasant news from " that dim spot which men
call earth ", to quote an English poet who wasn't perhaps as
well known in France in your day as he should have been.
Come, let us have it. Have men at last arrived at the point
of fairly appreciating the Comedie humaine as the most
stupendous production of genius since Shakspere wrote his
Balzac. No, my dear Lord Byron, they have hardly
got that far yet, but I am steadily growing in reputation both
in and out of France. It is true that the praise of my coun-
trymen is still a little grudging, that they still harp on my
style and set Flaubert up against me. But the same thing
has happened to my great forerunner, and yours by the way,
the good Sir Walter, who is lectured on his style and actually
has a young man named Stevenson (who recently came
among us) set up against him. But we all have to abide
the critics, who are an ephemeral race, and we can afford to
do it, if we continue to appeal to the public as I seem to be
Lord Byron. You are more fortunate than I am, by
Jove ! I've had the critics down on me for a long time, and
they tell me I'm losing the public too — that is the English
public whose smug primness you have comprehended and
I have felt. But what special mark of public favor have you
378 The Sewanee Review.
Balzac. Why, I am told that there are two rival trans-
lations of my entire works being published in England and
America, and that one of them is edited with introductions
by a distinguished English critic, a Mr. Saintsbury. Do
you know anything of him, my Lord?
Lord Byron. Well, I rather think I do know the fellow.
So he is introducing you to the English public, bless his
impudence? He has had a little to say about me, too, re-
cently — with considerable impunity now that my satirizing
days are over.
Balzac. Why. my Lord, I hope he has unearthed no
silly scandal about you as that unfortunate American au-
thoress did years ago. I haven't forgot the foul taint the
report of it gave to the fresh air we breathe here, air as pure
and sweet as that of my own Touraine, which on earth al-
ways made me quote our common friend Horace —
Ille terrarum mihi praeter omnes
Angulus ridet —
you know the rest.
Lord Byron. Oh ! yes ; I knew my Horace quite well
once upon a time — in fact was too much enamoured of him,,
so the critics say. But to answer your question, I am sorry
to inform you that Saintsbury has discovered no new scan-
dal about me. I could have stood that as well as George
Eliot can the same chap's cheap flings at her private char-
acter. No, Professor Saintsbury — he instructs youths now,
you know, having instructed adults in all matters from gas-
tronomy to Tory politics — not such a far cry by the way
— no, Professor Saintsbury has openly brought a charge of
a different sort against me that has only b een rumored
Balzac. What is that, my Lord? Anew charge against
you that is not scandalous? It must indeed be remarkable ;
though for the matter of that a new scandal would be just
as hard to conceive of, considering the malignity of your
enemies and the brutality of the Anglo-Saxon philistine.
Lord Byron. Well, as I intimated, this is not exactly
A Conversation in Hades. 379?
a new charge, only it has never been so openly and un-
blushingly made before. In short, dear M. de Balzac, Pro-
fessor Saintsbury affirms that I am not a great poet, indeed
he almost tries to show that I 'm no poet at all.
Balzac. Que ces Anglais sont droles ! But surely, my
Lord, you must be chaffing me, as you other English say.
No man who valued his reputation, no man, pardon my ap-
parent vanity, who has the good sense to appreciate me,
would think of committing such a folly.
Lord Byron. I was never more serious in my life,
M. de Balzac, not even when I espoused the cause of Greek
independence or when I wrote the verses on my thirty-sixth
birthday. Mr. Saintsbury will not allow me a leg to stand
on. It gives him a positive pain to read me in connection
with any great English poet, like my friend Shelley, for in-
stance, who when alive thought that I could write poetry,
and thinks so still.
Balzac. But, my dear Lord Byron, I am amazed at the
man's impudence. What ! the poet that Goethe praised,
that the Europe of my day worshipped, to whom I myself
paid my humble tribute, whom Europe still admires — this
poet is ranked as a mere impostor by a man who finds
publishers and readers ! Why, the thing is incredible, be-
sides it touches me nearly.
Lord Byron. How so, my dear friend?
Balzac. Why, you forget. This man is introducing
me to the English public? Mon dieu, how is he doing it?
Perhaps he is murdering my reputation at this very mo-
ment. What can I do to stop him? Oh, my Lord, this is
terrible. We don't get books here and I couldn't read
his English if we did. Is there no way to get word to my
friends on earth to disclaim the translation? Dear me, what
shall I do?
Lord Byron. Calm yourself, dear M. de Balzac. I
really believe he condescends to like you, and he'll certainly
do you no harm. Nor will he do me any. It may comfort
you to know that I have just heard of two magnificent edi—
380 The Sewanee Review.
tions of my works that are to be shortly undertaken — one
by a descendant of my old friend John Murray. I'd give a
good deal to be able to send him some verses just as I used
to send to his ancestor :
My dear young John Murray,
Pray be in a hurry
To get out your great new edition ;
If on earth it don't go
Just ship it below,
And I'll retail it here on commission.
Come, my dear M. de Balzac, as Virgil says
Majoresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae.
Since we are good and peaceable spirits, it is time for us to
retire and leave Mr. Saintsbury to gang his own gait.